Bel-Air Association Writes Letter of Support For Haul Route In Exchange For $30K

This article was written by Victoria Talbot and published by the Beverly Hills Courier

BAA Writes Last-Minute Letter of Support For Somma Haul Route In Exchange For $30K

In a last-minute letter to the Los Angeles Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, the Bel-Air Association (BAA) Land Use Committee faxed a letter the evening before a scheduled hearing on a Haul Route Application for the massive project at 10697 Somma Way. The letter expressed support for the haul route.

The Bel-Air Association made the decision to support doubling the potential hauling and extraction in the area, according to residents, without contacting any Somma Way homeowners for their input or opinions. The move seems to have laid down the gauntlet between the BAA and the Bel-Air Homeowners Alliance (BAHA), and become the fodder for a membership drive over resident’s opposition to that action.

The Bel-Air Association website states that its mission is, “to enhance the quality of life in Bel Air. We are a non-profit organization that maintains Bel-Air as a safe, beautiful and vital community. This vision becomes a reality by encouraging participation from our membership through awareness, communication, response, and community endeavors . . . utilizing a broad array of strategies to define and resolve issues for the individuals we serve.”

BAA states that they have “had the opportunity to coordinate with the applicant” and create terms and conditions with which they lend their approval. That includes this:

“For every 500 cubic yards of earth materials moved from the project site, we ask that this developer contribute $500 to the Bel-Air Association’s flagship program “Project Pothole,” which funds are specifically earmarked to repair potholes and other street issues exacerbated by the project dirt hauling and construction… If the developer uses double axle dirt hauling trucks, we ask that such amount be increased to $750 per 500 cubic yards.” 

It can be construed that this aligns the BAA with the interest of the developer; the more earth exported, the bigger the “pothole fund.” The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services is responsible for the proper maintenance of streets, not the BAA.

The BAHA contends the pothole fund is marginal, bordering on laughable, because of the major infrastructure changes that will be needed to contend with the wide array of different projects under construction just on Stone Canyon alone and the thousands of truck hauling trips that are needed to accommodate those projects.

The letter of support also appears in direct opposition to a vocal community of residents who have skyrocketed the BAHA to prominence.

Without consulting the residents affected by the project or the BAHA, “the Bel-Air Association inexplicably sent a letter to the City supporting the hauling route,” wrote BAHA president Fred Rosen in a letter to residents.

Then, on Wednesday, BAA attorneys sent another letter to BAHA members who participate in email threads on related issues.  “It is clear that this correspondence is being sent at the direction of the Bel Air Homeowners Alliance, with the sole goal of these ongoing communications being to harass.”

Though the BAA admits that they have negotiated directly with the developer on Somma Way, the attorney, Andrew Skale of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C., writes, “the BAA is not a government agency, it is a non-profit organization that simply wants to help Bel-Air. Hence it is not responsible for permitting, zoning or approving construction in Bel-Air.”

Though the mission states that the organization encourages “participation,” the letter threatens that if the emails continue, the BAA will “defend itself by seeking protection via an injunction or restraining order.”

The Somma Way project hearing at PLUM drew several residents, present to make public comments in opposition to the haul route, which is a direct threat to the health and safety of the residents, places an unnecessary and added burden on strained infrastructure and represents years of intense excavation, hauling and cement trucks on streets that are so narrow only one vehicle can pass at a time.  The project involves removing 50,000 cubic yards of soil just to haul the dirt away, and drilling 270 caissons. 

The BAHA was formed in response to increasing public safety issues from the encroachment of overdevelopment and mega-mansion-building. It is a community of residents who have hired legal representation to fight the Somma Way project and others like it that are on the increase in Bel-Air. Residents who were frustrated with the lack of support from the BAA have joined the BAHA. “Their objectives and the community’s are no longer the same,” wrote Rosen. “They are clearly an organization without leadership.”

Legal counsel represented BAHA at the PLUM hearing, where the applicant asked for a two-week continuance following a change of counsel. One week was granted. The PLUM Committee will meet over this again on Oct. 3.

Also on the agenda were two motions proposed by councilmember Paul Koretz. The first is relative to the Los Angeles Departments of City Planning, Building and Safety and the Bureau of Street Services “to report on directives for hillside neighborhood safety, modifications to the exemption process and related matters.” 

The second motion by Koretz is relative to the Los Angeles Departments of City Planning and Building and Safety, “to report on best practices relating to hillside neighborhood safety, withholding Certificate of Occupancy permits for outstanding violations.”

 The original purpose of the City’s Baseline Hillside Ordinance land-use plan is allegedly to preserve neighborhood integrity and sustainable neighborhoods. To his considerable credit, Koretz has done an about-face and become the first Los Angeles councilmember to seize on this issue. Tom LaBonge, who also represents hillside areas, has joined Koretz in the motions.

Bel Air residents have loudly speculated as to why the Bel Air Association refuses to disclose the names of its board members, or the names of its land use committee.